SoFloChristmas
Expressing the joy of the incarnation and bringing smiles and good cheer to our fellow South Floridians (Luke 2:8-20)
How Do You Do That?
Dancing Lights

Probably the most frequent and first question people ask is “how do you get the lights to ‘dance’ with the music”. The answer to that question is a lot more complicated than I actually even understand. But the good news is several companies have made it their business to make it easy for people like me.

Up until just a few years ago what you see in our Christmas display was all but impossible for anybody but the likes of Disney World, with their budget, resources and expertise. But today this technology is readily available and relatively affordable even for residential applications. 

The company we use is called Light-O-Rama. They sell “control boxes” and proprietary software that makes all this possible. To do this not only requires that you purchase the equipment, but it also requires many hours of programming the individual lights in your yard to the songs you choose. But the results are well worth it!

Each control box has 16 "channels" which are individual plugs you can control a different set of lights with. We have 13 boxes with 16 channels each, for a total of 208 channels. We also have RGB flood lights, pixels and bulbs (Red, Green & Blue). By varying the intensity of each color, we can make each individual bulb/light any color imaginable! Each RGB bulb requires three (3) channels to control it. We have 8 RGB floods, a 500 RGB bulb mega tree, and 500 leaping arches pixels, for a total of 3,232 channels being controlled by our computer.

If you’d like to check out Light-O-Rama, the control boxes and demo software, you may visit the company at www.lightorama.com.

Here is a screen shot of the Light-O-Rama software used to program the songs.



How long does it take you to do this?
Our passion for celebrating Christmas and for sharing the joy we have in our hearts over its meaning really is a year long endeavor. We are planning almost year round, working on projects, thinking of new things to do and programming the computer. But to actually put the lights up and the display together takes about a FULL month. We start the day after Halloween and have it all ready to go the first Sunday of Advent (usually the first Sunday/Saturday night after Thanksgiving).

Where do you store everything?
We have a great yard for what we do. We not only have a "double" lot, but a corner lot as well, so we in essence are decorating three yards. In our back yard is a pool and a cabana or pool house. That structure has a large storage area and attic. In addition, we rent a small storage space close to the house for the bulky items (blow molds and inflatables).

Are you an engineer, computer expert or do you do this for a living?
No engineers or computer experts in this house. If it wasn't for Light-O-Rama products, I wouldn't have the slightest clue how to do any of the electronics. And I've had to do a bit of learning along the way.

How many miles/feet of extension cords do you use?
We have over 7,000 feet of extension cords in our display. Over 1 mile.

How many amps do your lights draw?
If every light was on at once, the control boxes have the ability to draw and are plugged into separate circuits for 270 amps. But one of the advantages of synchronizing your lights to music and of the Light-O-Rama control boxes is all of the lights are rarely on and if they are, it is for a brief second. You also have the ability to regulate the "intensity" of the lights. For example, you can designate a given "burn" at 80% so it would in fact only draw 216 amps with little noticeable difference in how bright the bulbs are.

How much does your power/light bill increase?
Usually about 20%-30% or about $50-$75 per month. This might be less than you expected. Another advantage of having a synchronized show to music is instead of a steady burn of the lights all night on most homes, synchronization moderates the amperage/watts used and actually conserves energy because the lights are on and off throughout the show.

How many lights in your display?
We have approximately 85,000 lights.

How many inflatables (blow up decorations) do you have?
We will have 22 individual inflatables in our display. Each year we have to retire some of our oldest inflatables,  which after years of use become very faded and faile to inflate fully. Therefore we are constantly replacing old inflatables with new ones.

The inflatables are controlled by the Light-O-Rama boxes as well so they may be activated at will during the day and/or during the synchronized show. We deflate them during part of the light show so that you can fully see and enjoy the lights, but reactivate them towards the end of the show

North Pole
The north pole is a large PVC pipe purchased at a home supply store. I used red duck tape wrapped around the pole, which slips perfectly over a concrete pole barrier installed to protect the fire hydrant from cars. I drilled holes in the pole and inserted closet rods which I painted white. I used wood fence sections painted white and cut to the appropriate size, hung from chain link from each closet rod inserted through the drilled holes in the PVC pipe. I topped it off with a plastic round outdoor lamp dome.

Mini and Tweenie Trees

These trees (eighteen minis and four "tweenie" vertical trees) have two colors of LED lights. The base of the trees are small wreath easels commonly used at cemeteries or "vegetable trellises". The lights are attached to the structure with zip ties and progressively wrapped around until they are full (approximately 180 lights for each color).  The tweenie trees (new in 2009) are made from vegetable/tomato trellises, are 4' high and will be "vertical" trees, meaning each of their two colors will be split into a top, middle and bottom section, each being able to be lit separately.

FM Station
The FM signal you receive in your car is transmitted through a very low power transmitter (making it legal) which can be purchased through several retailers, either in a kit or assembled. I actually purchased the kit from a company called Ramsey Electronics, which required significant soldering. But with patience and time, it was not that difficult. The transmitter I purchased (FM100B Standard Super Pro FM Stereo Transmitter Kit) allows you to pick a frequency of your choice but because of the low power, you need to be able to find a frequency where no other signal is being received.

If you'd like to visit Ramsey Electronics and see the transmitter I use, you may do so at
http://www.ramseyelectronics.com/cgi-bin/commerce.exe?preadd=action&key=FM100B.
 

Large Tree Ornaments
The large ornaments have been purchased over years at Christmas stores, Big Lots and wherever they can be found. We used hanging basket "S" hooks purchased in packages of two (2) or three (3) from a home supply store. One tree is adorned with multi-color ornaments and the other tree has only silver ornaments.

"Ornament" Garland
A new addition in 2008 to the sofit around the house, this project was made using the bulk ornaments you can find at warehouse and discount stores, using a soldering iron to put a hole in opposite sides of each ornament, and stringing them together to form garland. We have more than 80 feet of this gingerbread house "garland" which adds to the beauty of viewing our display during the day.

Saint Nicholas in the Window

Something which everyone seems to love (new in 2010) is our "virtual Santa" in the bedroom window off our side yard. Part of our plan was to get more people to explore that part of the yard and while we expected children to especially love this new addition, we had now idea how much (and even a lot of older "kids" like it too). Our virtual Santa is so realistic I almost hate to spoil the fun, but it's relatively simple. A product purchased from ChristmasLightShow.com, is simply a special DVD projected on a white shower curtain in the window.

http://christmaslightshow.com/xcart/product.php?productid=5

Do you have any questions not answered here?
E-mail us at SoFloChristmas@comcast.net


Here are some other great web sites for resources I use.
Strobe lights (www.cheaplights.com).
Ideas/camaraderie among Christmas decorating enthusiasts (www.planetchristmas.com).

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